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February 24, 2011 / Brent Sears

My Experience Judging Scholarships

As a study abroad advisor I had a lot to do.  One part of the job was reviewing and accepting student applications for study abroad programs.  When I started the job I took the time to read over EVERYTHING. After a while I started scanning for the important information: essays, references, and transcripts.  There wasn’t enough time in the day to sit there and analyze each application like a piece of poetry.

One semester I reviewed scholarship application on a train ride back from the Spanish Consulate in NYC.  I had time, so I read through all the essays like I would have read a good book on a trip.  If I had been in the office I guarantee I wouldn’t have spent as much time.

Many of the applicants had been my advisees earlier in the semester, so I already had an opinion of each one.  I knew most of their stories and at times the office administrative staff would tell me how they had acted when they walked in.  Some had been annoying, and others had been instant favorites.   The opinions of those in my office carried a lot of weight with me!  [Treat everyone with dignity and respect.]

After reading through each application I was asked to rate 1-10 on half sheets of paper based on different criteria.  I had to go on how I felt. Was this category of 6 or a 7?  I looked at the transcript and instantly assigned the level of student I was reviewing…this isn’t fair, but it is really hard to be objective.  Then I would look at the confidential references, and who the reference was.  Little known fact is that within institutions people will also know your reference, so pick someone who is well liked and respected.  The thing that carried the most weight with me was the essay.  That was my chance to hear from the student, why they were applying, and why they deserved the award.  I had been through this very same process, so I was also comparing them with what I remembered of myself.  The students who were the best always told me their story, and painted a picture of what this scholarship would mean to them and how they would use it.

Lesson: Make a connections!  Live your story, then write it on paper and invite the readers to share in your dream.     



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